Archive for February 11th, 2009

I’ll Take “Los Angeles Traffic” for $200, Alex

Over at Freakonomics, Eric Morris is running a quiz that should delight, surprise, and cause no small amount of debate among transpo types. He’s already answered one of the questions, but I’ve linked to the original quiz post, which I’ll reproduce below as well:

We at U.C.L.A. hear from reporters a lot, and they are often looking for a few quotes to help write a familiar script. In it, Los Angeles is cast in the role of the nation’s transportation dystopia: a sprawling, smog-choked, auto-obsessed spaghetti bowl of freeways which meander from one bland suburban destination to the next. The heroes of the picture are cities like San Francisco, or especially New York, which are said to have created vastly more livable urban forms based on density and mass transit.

But this stereotype is as trite and clichéd as any that has spewed from the printer of the most dim-witted Hollywood hack. And it is just as fictitious. The secret is that Los Angeles doesn’t fit the role it’s been typecast in.

I have not yet been granted authorization to distribute the coveted Freakonomics schwag, but challenge yourself with the following quiz anyway.

Exactly one of the following statements about transportation in Los Angeles is indisputably true. Two are (at best) half-truths, and the rest are flat-out myths. Can you figure out which of the following is accurate?

1. Los Angeles has developed in a low-density, sprawling pattern.

2. Los Angeles’s air is choked with smog.

3. Angelenos spend more time stuck in traffic than any other drivers in the nation.

4. Thanks to the great distances between far-flung destinations, and perhaps to Angelenos’ famed “love affair” with the car, Angelenos drive considerably more miles than most Americans.

5. Los Angeles is dominated by an overbuilt freeway system that promotes autodependence.

6. Los Angeles’s mass transit system is underdeveloped and inadequate.

Answers to follow over the next few weeks.

Posted on Wednesday, February 11th, 2009 at 3:39 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Actions: What You Can Do With the City

A traffic engineer I recently heard speaking at a conference said, showing off a new scheme, “there’s a lot you can do with paint.” (Of course, you can also influence human behavior by taking paint away). In any case I thought of that sentiment while recently reading through the excellent catalog (edited by Mirko Zardini and Giovanna Borasi) for an exhibit at the Canadian Center for Architecture called “Actions: What You Can Do With the City,” a kind of surrealist planning guide meets handbook for guerilla civic engagement, filled with ideas, some new, some old — all interesting — about how cities can be made better places to live (and “paint,” it turns out, is one of the categories in the exhibit). Perhaps not surprisingly, a number of them had to do with traffic, in particular the question of assigning different bits of urban space to different modes, or at least getting us to think about these issues in new and creative ways, rather than simple formulas or prescriptions.

Pictured above, for example, is German artist Gerhard Lang’s zebrastreifen, or “zebra crossing,” which, as described by the CCA, is: “A DIY answer to the question: how can pedestrians legally cross a street wherever they want to, and not only at the whim of traffic planners? … Lang’s zebrastreifen… allowed a 600-person procession to cross the streets, alleys, backyards, and car parks of Kassel without jaywalking. The procession honoured Lang’s friend, collaborator, and former professor, Lucius Burckhardt, the inventor of the field of Spaziergangswissenschaft, or ” ‘Strollology.’ ”

I also particularly enjoyed two different kinds of commentaries on the space occupied by the car in the city. The first, pictured below, is Austrian civil engineer Hermann Knoflacher’s low-tech but effective Gehzeug, or walkmobile, designed in 1975 as a commentary on the “spatial abilities of streets without automobiles.

In a slightly different vein is artist Michael Rakowitz’ “(P)LOT Project,” which “restores parking spaces to pedestrians as street-side camping,” using standard car covers. The model below was for a Porsche, and it was stolen.

Back on the subject of paint, there’s also the work (pictured below) of Toronto’s Urban Repair Squad. As the story goes they got tired of waiting for adequate bike lanes in their city, and took matters into their own hands: “Since 2005, the group has painted over six kilometres of bicycle lanes on major and minor streets in Toronto while disguised as municipal workers – official City of Toronto workers attempt to remove the markings as fast as they are painted.”

I’ll close with the work of L.A.’s Fallen Fruit, which seeks out the Ballardian dead spaces of L.A.’s traffic infrastructure, like the forlorn traffic islands (can ramp gores be next?). Notes the CCA: “Ten urban archipelagos were planted with young tomatoes in May 2008, and their produce tracked to identify which traffic islands sites best supported agriculture.”

No word on if the tomatoes compromised the sight distance of passing drivers.

Posted on Wednesday, February 11th, 2009 at 3:23 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013 “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Grand Rapids MI



February 2009

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